NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A man wearing nothing but a green jacket and brandishing an assault rifle stormed a Waffle House restaurant in Tennessee and shot four people to death before dawn Sunday, according to police, who credited a customer with saving lives by wresting the gunman’s weapon away.
The gunman shot people in the parking lot before entering the restaurant, where he continued firing until a customer snatched the rifle, Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron said. Four people were injured.
The police department tweeted that authorities are searching for 29-year-old Travis Reinking. Police named him as a person of interest because the pickup truck the gunman drove to the restaurant was registered to Reinking.
Witness Chuck Cordero told The Tennessean newspaper he had stopped to get a cup of coffee and was outside the restaurant when he saw the chaos unfold around 3:25 a.m.
“He did not say anything,” Cordero said of the gunman, who he described as “all business.”
Cordero said the man who wrested the gun from the suspect saved lives. “Had that guy had a chance to reload his weapon, there was plenty more people in that restaurant,” he said.
Police identified the customer as 29-year-old James Shaw, Jr.
Shaw told the Tennessean in an interview that he was “just trying to get myself out. I saw the opportunity and pretty much took it.”
The newspaper said Shaw was grazed by a bullet, treated and released.
“When I was in the ambulance to hospital I kept thinking that I’m going to wake up and it’s not going to be real,” Shaw said. “It is something out a movie. I’m OK though, but I hate that it happened.”
Police spokesman Aaron said three people died at the restaurant and one person died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where two others were being treated for gunshot wounds. Medical Center spokeswoman Jennifer Wetzel said one was in critical condition and the other was in critical but stable condition.
TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center spokeswoman Katie Radel in Nashville said two people were treated for minor injuries and released.
Aaron said the gunman arrived at the restaurant, sat in the parking lot for four minutes before shooting two people outside, then entering.
Inside, Shaw grabbed the rifle from the suspect and tossed it over a counter, Aaron said. After that, the gunman fled.
“No doubt he saved many lives,” Aaron said of the customer, who he described as a hero.
After fleeing, the suspect shed his jacket. Aaron said he lived at an apartment complex in the working- and middle-class area of southeast Nashville and, based on witness reports, went there and put on a pair of pants.
Aaron said witnesses saw a man in a nearby wooded area, and police were still tracking the man more than eight hours after the shooting.
Police said Reinking, the person of interest to whom the truck the gunman drove was registered, was from Morton, Illinois. Later on Sunday, Metro Nashville police tweeted that they were drafting murder warrants against him.
Aaron said Reinking was known to both Illinois and federal law enforcement.
The victims’ names weren’t immediately released.
“This is a very sad day for the Waffle House family,” the company said in a statement on Twitter. “We ask for everyone to keep the victims and their families in their thoughts and prayers.”
Nashville Mayor David Briley said the shooting represents “a tragic day” for the city.
“My heart goes out to the families & friends of every person who was killed or wounded in this morning’s shooting. I know all of their lives will be forever changed by this devastating crime,” Briley said in an emailed statement.
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, whose district includes Nashville, said in an emailed statement that the shooting shows the need for tighter restrictions on “widespread civilian access to military-grade assault weapons.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said he and his wife, Crissy, “are deeply saddened by the tragic incident in Antioch early this morning, and we mourn the lives taken in this senseless act of violence.”
Associated Press writer John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia, contributed to this report.